Ginger Nuts of Horror
Motherhood of the Monstrous welcomes back Jess-O-Lantern to the fold for an indepth interview, about horror, music and life on the road.
Jess-O-Lantern is a spooky-singer-songwriter, originally from the small town of Ocala, FL and now lives in New York City. She grew up on a diet of 50's Rock n' Roll and Cabaret Showtunes, then when she was 12 years old she was given her first mixtape, introducing her to punk, hardcore, and Horror Punk. Also at the age of 12 she started playing guitar, and began writing her own songs.
So far she has had a long journey of performing solo acoustic shows (billing under her full name), fronted several different bands (from dance-pop-punk, to acoustic two-piece duos, to alternative, to horrorpunk), all before deciding to pursue "Jess-O-Lantern" as her primary focus.
With her love for all things horror and Halloween, coupled with her ten years of professional Haunted House experience, the spooky stage presence and vivid Halloween themes became an obvious choice.
Hello Jess, how are things with you?
Things are good! I'm happy I got the chance to talk with you guys!
How did a girl from the swamps of Florida become a horror punk maiden?
When I was 12 I started playing guitar and writing songs. When I turned 18 I
was old enough to audition for Halloween Horror Nights in Orlando, FL and my first job
became scaring people. I loved being Scare Actor, and it was during that time in my life
that I truly fell in love with all things Horror. Over the last ten years, after being in
several bands and working in several Haunted Attractions, I realized that the best way
to join my two loves of music and horror would be through "Jess-O-Lantern" and truly
devoting myself to living every day like its Halloween.
Is there anything you miss about living in Florida?
Of course! I was born and raised in Florida, and spent 8 years living in Orlando. I
spent half that time on a Rocky Horror Picture Show shadow-cast called "The Rich
Weirdoes" and I grew closer to my cast than my own family. I miss my Weirdo Family.
As well as my friends in the theatre and music scene. But I also miss the weather, and
Publix Subs! (Publix is an EPIC grocery store chain, and they don't have them in NYC.
I know it seems silly to miss a sandwich, but they are heaven.)
When did you start playing music, and can you remember the first song you learned to play?
I started playing guitar and writing at 12, and played my first "show" at 14. (My high
school Freshman talent show. I almost didn't go on I was so nervous.) As for the first
song I learned to play, it's hard for me to recall. I know I played a lot of MxPx and Green
Day songs when I first started. I think I taught myself how to play the entire "Dookie"
album. But I can't recall which song I learned first.
Like me, you would have missed the first wave of punk as it hit the public consciousness how did you get into punk music? And what was the one song that really made you sit up and listen?
I had a few close friends when I was in middle school who I really looked up to. One of
them made me a mix tape of AFI, MxPx, and Minor Threat. I was about 13, and I was in
LOVE with these bands. (AFI is still to this day my favorite band.) My favorite track on the
mix was AFI's "God Called In Sick Today". That song stuck with me. It's hard to describe
why. I know it's not a "punk song", but it was more like a "gateway drug" into the genre
for me. I also listened to a lot of ska and ska-punk back then as well, so it was all a
natural progression. I also went to as many local shows as I could and Ocala, FL had a
pretty decent local punk and hardcore scene back then.
What are the musicians playing now that you think we should listen to?
Most of my friends are musicians, so I think you should listen to them! Firstly, Devil in
The Belfry! (They are wonderful fellas and they were the backing band on most of the
songs on my "Rest in Pumpkins" album.) But also, some of my current favorites are
Stellar Corpses, The Long Losts, Voltaire, Argyle Goolsby and The Roving Midnight, The
Cryptkeeper Five, and PAIN!
And if you could play live with any musician who would it be and what song of theirs would you cover?
I would LOVE to play live with Amanda Palmer of The Dresden Dolls. She has been
a big inspiration for me over the years, and she has such a raw and powerful live show.
As for covering her songs, "Girl Anachronism" has always been one of my favorites, but
I'd love to cover "The Bed Song". It really resonates with me.
And Horror, you don't seem to be attracted to the mainstream, what is it about the horror genre that appeals to you?
Yeah, I'm not attracted to the mainstream at all. I have never been a child of
that world. I find more comfort in spooky, weird, and scary things. The thing about the
horror genre that appeals to me most is that among all genres of art/music/film, horror
seems to be one of the most powerful as far as human connection. Fear is such a
universally known experience, and cuts deep into the human condition. There are so
many different phobias, and ways to explore those fears. In addition, acknowledging
ones own mortality the way that the horror genre does, can be an empowering
experience. Taking the parts of life we fear, such as death, monsters, or anxieties, and
turning them into art. While no one is able to cheat death, perhaps being a horror fan
enables us to not fear death as much.
What would be your desert island horror film and book? What book and film would you consign to the closet never to be heard of again?
I love Neil Gaiman, and it's a toss up between "Neverwhere" and "The Graveyard
Book". I love everything he writes though. And "Evil Dead 2" is probably my choice of
film. It's just perfect. It's possibly my all time favorite horror film. (As for your other
question, I don't feel like any literature or films should be cast away. Even the worst of
the worst still holds some value even if just to those who created the art. So to be
honest, I wouldn't choose any to be cast off forever.)
There are a lot of misconceptions, even now, about punk music, what is the biggest misconception about it that really gets on your nerves?
I think the biggest misconception about punk that is that punk has to be "presented" a
certain way. Yes, the whole mohawks-fast-and-loud-3-chord-punk is awesome and will
reign supreme for most people. But punk has progressed so much over the years. I
consider my music to be of the genre "acoustic horrorpunk" but "horrorpunk" also has
subcategories just as punk does. For me, it's about not conforming to what is expected,
especially of a little girl like me. It's perfectly fine for some girls to sing acoustic songs
about their ex-boyfriends, or butterflies, or whatever. (More power to you girl!) But I'd
rather sing about ghosts, monsters, and horror movies.
We have just come to the end of the official Women in Horror Month, which, for those who don't know, is the movement to bring awareness to the fact that women do in fact write horror and redress the balance. Is this something that you have come across regarding your musical career? Do you feel there are barriers to your success from just being a woman?
It's an odd double edged sword. There are plenty of women in Horrorpunk, but I
don't know of many other solo artists, especially acoustic, that are in this specific
genre. While I have been given a lot of great opportunities thus far, I never once
felt that my being a women has created any barriers to my success. But, it HAS
given me some complications along the way with venues thinking I'm a fan trying
to get into the show early, or I'm someone's girlfriend/merch girl/ groupie instead
of actually playing the show. Which has obviously been frustrating, and an
unfortunately common happenstance among my fellow female entertainers. But
every time that's happened, after my set, who ever made those assumptions
about me, they always come up and apologize. It's interesting to watch how
people's attitudes change.
It feels like now more than ever; we need strong independent women in the music scene how do you feel about this ever increasing move where female performers are nothing more than mannequins from which hand unneeded sexual fantasies?
That concept of female performers being "sexual object mannequins" is an
unfortunate pattern all throughout the history of women being on the stage. Dating
all the way back to Shakespeare's time, when women were not permitted to
perform because it was considered inappropriate. (Many also assumed that any
women on stage was a prostitute.) So this stigma goes back quite a long way. But
today I feel that the empowerment of women to turn that around, and use it to their
benefit has created an army of strong independent women. Women who own their
sexuality and choose to either express as little or as much as they feel they need
or want to express. I feel that is healthy. Our body, our choice. It's only when the
public takes advantage of that where we begin to have an issue. I encourage all
women to express themselves freely and feel confident with the power that they
possess. As long as they respect themselves. If you respect yourself first, it will
demand respect from others.
I know is a cliched question, but I am fascinated by the creative process, how do you go about writing your songs?
It varies. I used to be old fashion, and I had to sit down with my guitar
and a notebook and start from scratch. But over the years, songs sometimes come
to me in fragments. Melodies, or lyrics, in bits and pieces. I try to either record them
into a voice memo (which that's always funny in public, humming indiscriminately
into my phone or iPad), or I take down lyrics into the notepad app on my phone.
Several of my most recent songs started as fragments in my notepad app. I would
be riding the subway on my morning commute and then an idea would pop up, so I
would write it down in my phone for later. Then when I get the chance to sit down
with my guitar, I find myself scrolling through my phone and surrounded by notes,
napkins, and other assorted scraps of paper, and I piece together the songs
from there. But there are still times when songs come out in one sitting, just more rare
for me now a days with my busy schedule.
And what do you find to be the hardest part of the process?
Honestly, finding the TIME to have the process is the hardest part. Like I said before,
my schedule sometimes prevents me from getting the proper chance to sit down with
my ideas and write. It takes planning ahead, which is unfortunate, because it's not like
you can schedule when inspiration will strike. So, I try my best to find a balance and
give myself as much time as I can.
Do you use the process as some sort of therapy, your song Corpse Revival especially seems to be directed at something specific?
The songwriting process is therapeutic, but generally my songs are not about people
in my life or specific real life situations. There are a few subtle exceptions though. As
for "Corpse Revival" it's probably not about what you'd expect. I wrote that song on my
computer at my desk when I was working in my first (and only) corporate office job. I
was a receptionist in NYC....and I hated EVERYTHING about it. And one day, when I
realized how much I did not feel like myself, when I felt like I had been trying to be
what this new strange corporate monster wanted me to be, and when my boss had
been particularly nasty to me for no reason...I imagined what it would be like to get
revenge. I wrote "Corpse Revival" as a poem originally, not expecting it to turn into a
song. But it ended up being my first true-to-form "horrorpunk song", and it also
motivated me to continue writing songs in the genre.
Could ever do a Taylor Swift and write an album which basically makes digs at the past relationships?
I have nothing against Taylor Swift, but I could never do that. For multiple reasons.
Aside from the damage that it could do to the person the songs are about, it's also
just a cliche topic to write about. EVERYONE has written songs about heartbreak, and
failed relationships, and that's perfectly fine for some people, but it's not at all for me.
Like I said before, I don't write about my personal life like that. I look at my songs like
fictional horror stories, and I am not a character in them. At the very minimal, I draw
from emotions I may have felt but I turn the entire situation into a different context. (Like
above, I don't ACTUALLY want to bury my ex-boss alive. But it was fun to write a horror
story about that emotion.) As for the romantic side though, I would never write a song
that "makes a dig" at any one from my past relationships. I have learned lessons from
every one in my life, and I have always believed in being respectful and civil, even
under the worst of endings. Life is too short to hold grudges.
Your version of the acoustic one woman sound is pretty unique, have you ever considered going for big band sound?
Thank you! I have considered it. And my most recent album "Rest In Pumpkins" is a
studio album with MOSTLY full-band songs. (Provided by the bands Devil in The
Belfry, and Vonesper). But at this point in my career, I'm still exploring how far I can
take the "one woman show". I have not had too many situations where I couldn't get
booked with other horrorpunk bands or full line ups just because I was a solo acoustic
performer. So, I'm content with keeping Jess-O-Lantern solo for now. But yes,
someday I will welcome on a full line up for my live shows.
These days life on the road is just as important as recording for a musician, how much of your time you spend on the road?
While I have played in New York City, Upstate New York, New Jersey, and
Pennsylvania, I have actually never been "on tour"! Not yet at least! I do have mini-
tour planned for a few days in April with fellow New Yorker's The Cuts and The
Katelyn Richards Band. Going to a few different cities in New York and
Pennsylvania. In April I will also be playing a show with The Undead and PAIN! in
Maryland. But isn't a "tour". It is nice to get out of state and play new places though!
I hope to go on a full tour someday soon. I recently got my passport, and I've
actually never been anywhere outside of The United States. So it's certainly in my
plans and efforts for the near future!
Are you one of these musicians that only ever truly feel alive on the stage?
Yes and no. While my background is in Theatre Performance, I'm a pretty awkward
gal in real life. In between songs, I tend to get in my head and nervous, and babble
and say silly or embarrassing things that I usually regret after the show. But the
moment that I start a song, or if I'm in the middle of a soaring note, sometimes,
under the right circumstances, it's euphoric. I have had my share of difficult times in
my life, but every time I'm performing I get a chance to escape. I get to be spooky,
and creepy, and sexy, and all the things that I want to be all the time but my
awkwardness and anxiety in real life prevent me from being that way. So, yeah, I
suppose I am one of those musicians, I do feel most alive on stage. (Ironic, given my
dead girl makeup.)
Your latest album Rest In Pumpkins was released last year, could you tell the readers about it?
"Rest In Pumpkins" is my latest album, originally released in the Summer of 2016.
And I just recently got in a new pressing of the album with three bonus tracks
included. My first demo album was all acoustic, and I wanted to take my favorites off
that album, get a full band to back me up, and then add a few new songs as well. (As
I mentioned above, the additional bands involved with recording and producing were
Devil in The Belfry and Vonesper.)
What's your favourite track of the album?
My favorite track off "Rest in Pumpkins" is a tie between "Corpse Revival" and "Little
Dead". "Corpse Revival" has become something of a single as I have had the song
featured on a few horror punk samplers and several horror radio podcasts. But I just
love the way the recording of "Little Dead" turned out. Although, my favorite song to
play LIVE off the album is "Mr. Skeleton".
And what has the response to the album been like from your fans?
I have had a very good response from fans! I'm always overwhelmed with joy when
anyone enjoys my music! I appreciate all the support! Especially from the Horrorpunk
community. It's such a strong family of fiends, and I'm honored to be a part of such a
supportive community of talented, creative, and kind-hearted-spooky-people.
What are you working now?
Right now I'm about to start the production of my next album! "BARE BONES"!
I will hopefully be releasing it in early October of this year, all things pending. Right now
"BARE BONES" is just that, in its baby stages. I have several new songs ready to go,
and I hope to narrow them down to 13 tracks. The album will be fully acoustic this time,
as close to my LIVE performance as we can get. I am also working with an all new
production crew on this, so there will be more videos and artwork in the future as well!
For the readers wishing to support you and find out more about you what's the best way that they can do this?
I can be found on FACEBOOK at facebook.com/JessOLantern on BANDCAMP at
Jess-O-Lantern.Bandcamp.com and I'm also on Twitter and YouTube! I also have my
merch for sale on my Big Cartel store at JessOLantern.Bigcartel.com and if you'd like to
contact me as well, you can EMAIL me at JessOLantern@gmail.com
Thanks Jess it has been a pleasure talking to you, do you have any final words?
This was fun! Thank you so much! Happy Halloween!
WOMEN IN HORROR MONTH LINKS
THE WOMEN IN HORROR MIXTAPE
INTERVIEW WITH KAYLEIGH MARIE EDWARDS
THE HISTORY OF WOMEN IN HORROR 1: A MAN EXPLAINS
28 Days Of Black Women In Horror
Interview with Lee Murray
Women in Horror Month
The Monstrous Regiment of Women in Horror